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Former Bishop Convicted in Drunken Driving Fatal Released from Prison

Baltimore Police Department

Heather Cook, the former Episcopal bishop who struck and killed a bicyclist while driving drunk and texting more than four years ago, was released from prison Tuesday.

Cook, who was the second-highest-ranking Episcopal leader in Maryland, served a little more than half the seven-year sentence she received for the death of Thomas Palermo, a 41-year-old father of two who was bicycling on Roland Avenue two days after Christmas 2014.

She pleaded guilty to manslaughter, drunken driving and leaving the scene in May 2015. Cook, who became the first female bishop in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland when she was consecrated in 2014, resigned from the church and the church removed her from ministry.

Cook, whose earlier applications for sentence modifications, home detention or work release programs were turned down, earned “good time” credits at the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women in Jessup by organizing and participating in addiction recovery and other support programs for fellow inmates. Prison officials described her as “a model inmate.”

Palermo family members have vigorously opposed any reduction in sentence for Cook. Tuesday, Alisa Rock, the sister of Palermo’s widow, Rachel, told the Baltimore Sun in an email that her sister “is choosing to focus on her family and friends at this time.”

Carrie Graves, a spokesperson for the Episcopla Diocese of Maryland, said in a statement: "We hold Rachel Palermo and her family in prayer, and we pray for Heather Cook and all involved in the aftermath of this tragedy."

The church had come under criticism after the incident when reprots surfaced that Cook had pleaded guilty to a drunken driving charge on the Eastern Shore in 2010 and diocesan officials admitted they had been aware of the arrest.

Last summer, the Episcopal Church's General Convention passed resolutions calling for mandatory training on alcohol, substance abuse and other addictions for clergy and for creating teams to help clergy with addiction problems.